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My Recent Media Diet, the Belated End of 2021 Edition

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 18, 2022

“Recent” is increasingly becoming a lie with these media diet posts…the last one I did was back on Sept 13, right before my life went to hell in a handcart for a couple of months.1 So let’s get to it: a list of short reviews of all the movies, books, music, TV shows, podcasts, and other things I’ve enjoyed (or not) in the last few months of 2021 (as well as a few 2022 items). As usual, don’t pay too much attention to the letter grades — they are subjective and inconsistent. Oh and some of this stuff might have already popped up in my end-of-2021 review, but I’ll try and say something different about them here.

The Great British Baking Show. I already covered this in the last media diet (and the year-end review), but I wanted to include it here as well because it’s become a real favorite. Rahul 4eva! (A)

Project Hail Mary. After my whole family read this and couldn’t stop talking about it, I had to read it too. And……it was alright. I guess I don’t quite get the acclaim for this book — reminded me of a sci-fi Da Vinci Code. Looking forward to the movie being better. (B)

The French Dispatch. Maybe my favorite Wes Anderson movie since The Royal Tenenbaums? (A)

The Hunger Games. I watched all four movies in this series because I needed something familiar and also mindless to switch my brain off. (B+)

Ted Lasso (season two). Not quite as good as the first season and definitely not as beloved because they had some new ground to cover, but I enjoyed the season as a whole. And put me down as a fan of the Coach Beard Rumspringa episode. (A-)

Izakaya Minato. I don’t exactly know what it was about this meal, but I’m still thinking about it more than 3 months later. Really fresh, clean, creative food. (A)

Magnus on Water. Amazing cocktails, great service, and the outdoor seating area was just right. (A-)

The Lost Daughter. Gah, so good! Olivia Colman, Dakota Johnson, and Jessie Buckley are all fantastic and the direction and cinematography (all those tight, almost suffocating shots) were just great. Gonna be thinking about this one for awhile. (A+)

Therapy. I’ve got more to say about this at some point, but I’ve been seeing a therapist since September and it’s been really helpful. (A)

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. I enjoyed this quite a bit, more than Black Widow or The Eternals (haven’t seen latest Spidey yet). (B+)

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings soundtrack. Really, really good — been blasting this in the car a lot lately. (A)

Dune. Felt good to see a serious blockbuster in the theater again. And to be able to rewatch it on HBO Max a couple of weeks later. (A-)

Ravine. I’ve only played this a couple of times with the kids, but it got high marks all around for fun and quick rounds. (B+)

The Power of the Dog. A slow burn with a great payoff. Wonderful cast & direction. (A)

No One Is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood. I loved the first half of this book — lots of pithy observations about social media. (B+)

Don’t Look Up. Everyone is comparing this to Dr Strangelove and while it’s not quite on that level, it certainly does some of the same things for climate change that DS did for nuclear war. (A)

When We Cease to Understand the World by Benjamin Labatut. A super interesting mix of historical fact and narrative fiction about the swift technological changes that took place in the early 20th century that altered history in small and large ways. (A-)

Wingspan. Bought this game after reading Dan Kois’ review and our family has been enjoying it. (B+)

Pirates of the Caribbean. Still fun. I remember being very skeptical before seeing this for the first time back when it came out, but as soon as Jack Sparrow stepped off his sinking ship right onto the dock, I knew it was going to be good. (A-)

Clear and Present Danger. I don’t actually remember watching much of this…must have switched off my brain too much. (-)

Spies in Disguise. I read the plot synopsis of this on Wikipedia and I still don’t remember watching any of it. I think the kids liked it? (-)

The Courier. Solid spy thriller starring Benedict Cumberbatch. Based on a true story. (B+)

Finch. Charming but nothing much actually happens? (B)

Eternals. Now that the Infinity Saga is done, I’m not sure how much interest I’m going to have in some of these new characters & storylines. (B)

Mad Max Fury Road. Seventh rewatch? Eighth? I just plain love this movie. (A)

No Time to Die. I am not really a James Bond fan but I liked this one. (B+)

Succession (season three). This got off to a bit of a slow, meandering start, but the last few episodes were just fantastic. (A)

Omicron variant. You think you’re out but they keep pulling you back in. (F-)

Swimming with bioluminescent plankton. Thought the water was going to glow as I swam through it, but it was more like sparkly fireworks. Magical. (A)

Xolo Tacos. We stumbled in here for dinner after nothing else looked good and were rewarded with the best tacos on Holbox. The carne asada taco might be the best taco I’ve had in years and we ended up ordering a second round. (A)

Beautiful World, Where Are You by Sally Rooney. I liked this one slightly less than her first two novels. But only slightly. (A-)

Free Guy. Fun entrant into the video game movie genre. (B+)

Hacks. It was fine but ultimately didn’t understand why so many people on my timeline were raving about this. (B+)

NY Times Crossword app. I’ve never been much for crossword puzzles, but the Times app does all the fiddly work (e.g. of finding the current clue’s boxes, etc.) for me so I’ve been enjoying dipping my toe into the Monday and Tuesday puzzles. But the Minis and Spelling Bee are where it’s at for me. (B+)

The Hunt for Red October. Still a great thriller. (A-)

Avatar: The Last Airbender. After watching The Legend of Korra, the kids and I went back to watch Avatar. The first season and a half is kinda uneven, but overall we really liked it. The beach episode has to be one of the weirdest things I’ve ever seen on television and the one where Aang is hallucinating from the lack of sleep made my kids laugh so hard I thought they were going to pass out. (A-)

The Matrix Resurrections. I am someone who didn’t dislike the second and third Matrix movies as much as everyone else seemed to, and so it is with this one as well. Wish I could have seen this in the theater, but Omicron. (A-)

The Wrong Trousers. The last five minutes is still maybe the best chase scene in movie history. (A)

Preview of the next media diet: I am enjoying the hell out of Lauren Groff’s Matrix, want to read The Lost Daughter, just started the last season of The Expanse, listening to the audiobook version of Exhalation, want to check out Station Eleven on HBO Max, and plan on watching Pig, Drive My Car, and Licorice Pizza. Oh, and I need to dig into the second seasons of The Great and For All Mankind. And more GBBO! We’ll see how much of that I actually follow through on…

Past installments of my media diet are available here.

  1. Nothing serious, I am embarrassed to say. I just got really into the weeds with a number of things and I kinda fell to pieces.

Jon Hamm Narrates Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, Updated for the Timeline Era

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 18, 2022

In Plato’s allegory of the cave (part of his The Republic), the reader/listener is asked to imagine people trapped in a cave whose only experience of the outside world is observing shadows cast by people outside the cave, which becomes their reality. In this clip from the TV show Legion narrated by Jon Hamm, Plato’s allegory is extended to our present age, where we’re mediated by devices and social media algorithms into individualized shadowy caves of our own.

Now, what if instead of being in a cave, you were out in the world — except you couldn’t see it because you trusted that the world you saw through the prism was the real world. But there’s a difference. You see, unlike the allegory of the cave where the people are real and the shadows are false, here other people are the shadows, their faces, their lives.

(via open culture)

Bel-Air, a Dramatic Reboot of the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 10, 2022

Three years ago, cinematographer and director Morgan Cooper uploaded a fan-made trailer for a gritty reboot/retelling of the 90s sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. It caught the attention of Will Smith, who decided to give Cooper the go-ahead to develop his idea into a series. And now the first trailer of that series, Bel-Air, has dropped. Looks great…I’m going to watch.

18 Things That Kept Me Going In 2021

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 31, 2021

a snowy peak through the trees

For a few years now, I’ve been keeping track of all the stuff I read, watch, listen to, and experience — I call it my media diet. As 2021 comes to a close, I’m sharing some of my favorite things from a year that was somehow even weirder than last year.

The French Dispatch. I saw this twice and loved it. Maybe my favorite Wes Anderson movie since Tenenbaums? (That feels crazy to say but also might be true?)

Making Sense — The Boundaries of Self. This podcast conversation with poet David Whyte felt like a turning point in my year.

Strava. I first tried mountain biking in the fall of 2020 and this year it blossomed into a favorite hobby. Despite a lot of other responsibilities and engagements, I got out on the bike once or twice a week during the spring, summer, and fall and missed it when I couldn’t manage a ride. I recorded all of my rides with Strava and was gratified to see progress and to try and beat my personal bests.

Handshake Speakeasy. Post-vaccination (and pre-Delta and Omicron) I was able to travel a bit. This new-ish bar in Mexico City had some of the coolest, tasty, and unique cocktails I’ve ever had. (Handshake was named the 25th best bar in the world earlier this month.) Baltra Bar was also quite good. Restaurant-wise, Quintonil was amazing. But just walking around the city, eating street food, going to museums, ducking into bookstores, and wandering through markets was such a fantastic experience after a difficult 16 months.

Fleabag (season two). I rewatched this when I was deep in the emotional weeds this summer and I think it might be the best season of television ever made. I laughed like a maniac and cried like a baby. The final scene is absolute perfection.

The Great British Bake-Off. My kids got me into this over the summer and it is, as many of you discovered in early 2020, the perfect low-stakes entertainment for getting one’s mind off of current events for 60 minutes at a time.

Pfizer-BioNTech (BNT162b2) and Moderna (mRNA-1273) Covid-19 Vaccines. Getting vaccinated (full three-series) and seeing my kids & friends (and their kids) get fully vaccinated was the absolute best thing that happened to me this year. Getting back to some semblance of normalcy, at least in certain situations at certain times with certain people, while being protected against severe disease and death, felt incredible.

The Premier League. I’ve watched a lot of football this year, mostly the Premier League but also the occasional PSG, Dortmund, Bayern, and Barca matches. Oh, and the Euros and Copa America. I don’t have a favorite team, I just like watching the best players in the world play football at a high level. I know this particular way of being a sports fan is often offensive to Real Sports Fans™ because you need to have a team and get upset and rend your garments when they lose and beat up the other teams’ fans, but my parents didn’t happen to live within 20 miles of an English soccer stadium when I was born, so I can do what I like.

You’re Wrong About. For the second year in a row, my favorite podcast. I couldn’t wait for the new episodes to drop on Monday. However. Michael Hobbes left the show in October and while I’ve been giving the show’s new format the benefit of the doubt, I’m not sure about it. Both Hobbes and co-host Sarah Marshall are individually wonderful but it was their combination that made the show marvelous and that bit is missing now.

Succession (season 3). My interest waned at times in the middle of the season, but I thought the last two episodes were outstanding. Plus, in preparation for this season, I watched season two’s finale and got to see this scene again.

The ocean. This should be on the list every year. Visiting the ocean nourishes my soul like little else and I was able to make that happen several times this year.

The Painter and the Thief. Remarkable documentary and maybe the best film I saw this year.

L.L. Bean fleece-lined hoodie. I lived in this thing for most of the year — so comfortable.

Dune. I can’t even put my finger on why I enjoyed this movie so much.

Donda. Ugh, I know. I continue to hate how much I love parts of this album.

The pandemic scribes. Even if you’re not a conspiracy theorist in thrall to religion, fascist media, or “wellness”, it’s been difficult to find steady, non-hysterical information, analysis, and opinion about the pandemic. I’m grateful to Zeynep Tufekci, Eric Topol, Ed Yong, Katelyn Jetelina, Jodi Ettenberg, Carl Zimmer, and others for keeping me informed.

NYC. I missed this place immensely: the restaurants, the bars, the museums, the people, the subway, the bookstores, the architecture, the crowds, the culture, the walkability. Keep all the outdoor seating and space reclaimed from cars please!

Wandavision. I was extremely charmed by this wonderful love letter to television.

I also enjoyed Mare of Easttown, Nixon at War, Summer of Soul, Black Art: In the Absence of Light, The Lying Life of Adults by Elena Ferrante, Ted Lasso (season two), Beautiful World, Where Are You by Sally Rooney, Soul (+ the soundtrack), and Laserwriter II by Tamara Shopsin but don’t have anything specific to say about them, for secret reasons. I’ll see you in 2022.

Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 21, 2021

From executive producer Adam McKay (who also directed the first episode) comes a glitzy HBO series about the Lakers’ NBA dynasty in the 80s called Winning Time. It’s based on Jeff Pearlman’s book, Showtime: Magic, Kareem, Riley, and the Los Angeles Lakers Dynasty of the 1980s. The casting looks great — Adrien Brody as Pat Riley is particularly fitting.

Winning Time was also the last straw in the disintegration of the creative partnership between McKay and Will Ferrell. From a recent profile of McKay in Vanity Fair:

McKay had been making an HBO limited series about the Los Angeles Lakers basketball team in the 1980s based on the book Showtime and Ferrell, a huge Lakers fan, had his heart set on the role of Jerry Buss, the legendary ’80s-era team owner. After Gary Sanchez dissolved, however, the Lakers show moved under McKay’s new production banner, Hyperobject Industries. And Ferrell, it turns out, was never McKay’s first choice. “The truth is, the way the show was always going to be done, it’s hyperrealistic,” he says. “And Ferrell just doesn’t look like Jerry Buss, and he’s not that vibe of a Jerry Buss. And there were some people involved who were like, ‘We love Ferrell, he’s a genius, but we can’t see him doing it.’ It was a bit of a hard discussion.”

The person McKay wanted for Buss was John C. Reilly, who looks more like the real thing, and who is Ferrell’s best friend. McKay hesitated. “Didn’t want to hurt his feelings,” he says flatly. “Wanted to be respectful.”

In the end he cast Reilly in the role anyway-without telling Ferrell first. Ferrell was infuriated. “I should have called him and I didn’t,” says McKay. “And Reilly did, of course, because Reilly, he’s a stand-up guy.”

Winning Time debuts in March 2022.

A Ted Lasso Animated Short: The Missing Christmas Mustache

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 16, 2021

Well this is a nice little holiday boost: a four-minute animated short with Ted Lasso and the gang called The Missing Christmas Mustache.

Business Garden Inn & Suites & Hotel Room Inn

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 14, 2021

This pitch-perfect SNL commercial featuring Kate McKinnon & Billie Eilish advertises the bland budget business-ish hotel that can be found all across America.

Our rooms provide every comfort required by law: tiny soap in plastic, phone that blinks, Band-Aid-colored blanket, chair for suitcase, black & white photo of Ferris wheel, blow dryer that goes oooooooh, short glass wearing little hat, and small stain in place you have to touch.

And be sure to enjoy our hot tub; it’s always occupied by an eight-year-old boy in goggles staring at your breasts. He’s been in there for hours and he’s not getting out until you do.

I have stayed at this precise hotel many times in the past and I will again in the future. C+++++.

Street Gang: How We Got to Sesame Street

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 13, 2021

Street Gang: How We Got to Sesame Street, a documentary about the beloved show’s first two decades, debuts today on HBO Max. The film is based on Michael Davis’s 2009 book Street Gang: The Complete History of Sesame Street.

The documentary focuses on the first two experimental and groundbreaking decades of Sesame Street, highlighting this visionary “gang” that audaciously interpreted radical changes in society and engaged children with innovative new ways to entertain and educate.

Featuring exclusive behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with over twenty original cast members and creators, the documentary explores how the team incorporated groundbreaking puppetry, clever animation, short films, music, humor, and cultural references into each episode to keep kids and parents coming back, while never shying away from difficult conversations with children.

In a review, NY Times TV critic James Poniewozik says the film reminds us that Sesame Street was political right from the beginning:

“Sesame Street,” which premiered in 1969, was the project of Joan Ganz Cooney, a TV executive who was originally more interested in the civil rights movement than in education but came to see the connection between the two. “The people who control the system read,” she once said, “and the people who make it in the system read.” And she believed that the best way to get the kids of the 1960s to read, paradoxically, was through TV.

Her Children’s Television Workshop brought together educators and entertainers, including a puppeteer named Jim Henson and the director Jon Stone, an idealist attracted to Cooney’s idea of closing the literacy gap for inner-city Black children. “I think what drew Dad in really had to do with her political vision,” his daughter Kate Stone Lucas says in the documentary.

The Dutch Angle

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 12, 2021

These days, movies, TV shows, and even commercials all use something called the Dutch angle,1 a filmmaking technique where the camera is angled to produce a tilted scene, often to highlight that something is not quite right. The technique originated in Germany, inspired by Expressionist painters.

It was pioneered by German directors during World War I, when outside films were blocked from being shown in Germany. Unlike Hollywood, which was serving up largely glamorous, rollicking films, the German film industry took inspiration from the Expressionist movement in art and literature, which was focused on processing the insanity of world war. Its themes touched on betrayal, suicide, psychosis, and terror. And Expressionist films expressed that darkness not just through their plotlines, but their set designs, costumes… and unusual camera shots.

This got me thinking about my favorite shot from Black Panther, this camera roll in the scene where Killmonger takes the Wakandan throne:

It’s the Dutch angle but even more dynamic and it blew me away the first time I saw it. I poked around a little to see if this particular move had been done before (if director Ryan Coogler and cinematographer Rachel Morrison were referencing something specific) and I found Christopher Nolan (although I’d argue that he uses it in a slightly different way) and Stranger Things (in the scene starting at 1:33). Anywhere else?

  1. As with Pennsylvania Dutch, the Dutch in Dutch angle is a bastardization of Deutsch (German).

David Fincher’s VOIR

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 12, 2021

A few weeks ago, I posted about David Fincher’s new project with Netflix. Unfortunately, it’s not a third season of Mindhunter. But, here’s what it is: a 6-episode series of visual essays about movies and filmmaking, not unlike the YouTube videos I post here all the time (many of which you can find under the film school tag).

VOIR is a series of visual essays celebrating Cinema and the personal connection we each have to the stories we see on the big screen. From intimate personal histories to insights on character and craft, each episode reminds us why Cinema holds a special place in our lives.

Tony Zhou and Taylor Ramos of the dearly missed Every Frame a Painting are contributing to at least one of these visual essays, so that right here is reason enough to rejoice. VOIR drops Dec 6 on Netflix.

The Simpsons Library

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 22, 2021

Lisa Simpson holding a book called Tales of Sherlock Holmes' Smarter Sister

Lisa Simpson holding a book about The Simpsons

Lisa Simpson reading a book called Backdoors to Citizenship

Marge Simpson reading a book called Love in the Time of Scurvy

The Simpsons Library Instagram account has been documenting all of the books, magazines, and other printed matter that has appeared on the long-running sitcom.

Trailer for Season Two of The Great

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 20, 2021

Oh, I’m excited for this one. I’m not saying The Great was the best show I’ve seen over the past couple of years, but it’s definitely one of the most fun and enjoyable. A synopsis:

The Great is a satirical, comedic drama about the rise of Catherine the Great from outsider to the longest reigning female ruler in Russia’s history. A fictionalized, fun and anachronistic story of an idealistic, romantic young girl, who arrives in Russia for an arranged marriage to the mercurial Emperor Peter. Hoping for love and sunshine, she finds instead a dangerous, depraved, backward world that she resolves to change. All she has to do is kill her husband, beat the church, baffle the military and get the court onside.

The Great was created by Tony McNamara, who co-wrote The Favourite — both have the same punchy, ribald dialogue. You can catch up on season one on Hulu while we wait for the season two premiere on Nov 19.

The Design of TV Key Art

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 19, 2021

When the TV watching experience moved from checking “your local listings” or TV Guide and surfing channels with your remote to scrolling through visual onscreen menus on streaming services, key art was born. Key art graphics are the images that identify shows in streaming menus — ok here, it’s just easier to show you:

key art for The Americans

key art for Chernobyl

key art for several other TV shows

Like the best movie posters and book covers, these images are bold and simple promotional signifiers of a larger piece of media, but as Rex Sorgatz argues in today’s edition of Why is this interesting?, key art is its own thing with its own set of constraints and challenges.

Good key art is so evocative, so iconic, that it becomes the image that springs to mind whenever you think about a show:

One neglected characteristic ties all these images together: They are all horizontal.

It sounds trivial, but going wide helped differentiate TV key art as its own medium, distinct from book covers and movie posters. And because these images appear on streaming platforms, they are unencumbered by other marketing copy, like taglines, cast and credits, and multifarious blurbs.

There is a simple purity to key art.

Sorgatz maintains an archive of his favorite key art here.

The Most Important Device in the Universe

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 14, 2021

You’ve probably seen it: a dual-tubed generator console that’s appeared in movies and TV shows like Star Trek (all of them, pretty much), Knight Rider, V, Austin Powers, The Last Starfighter, and even Airplane II. This prop was originally built in the 70s and in the decades since has been placed in scenes requiring an impressive piece of high-tech equipment. The video above is a compilation of scenes in which the console has appeared (parts two & three of the compilation).

Watch A Cook’s Tour, Bourdain’s First Travel/Food TV Show, for Free Online

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 16, 2021

After Anthony Bourdain died in 2018, I listened to the audiobook version of his fantastic Kitchen Confidential (read by Bourdain himself) and in retrospect, the trip he took to Tokyo documented in one of the final chapters was a clear indication that his career was headed away from the kitchen and out into the world. His long-time producer Lydia Tenaglia saw this too…she cold-called him after reading the book and pitched him on doing a TV show called A Cook’s Tour, where the intrepid Bourdain would travel to different locations around the world to experience the food culture there.

I met him at a point in his life where he had never really traveled before. He had written a book, Kitchen Confidential, and I had read somewhere that he was going to try to write a follow-up book called A Cook’s Tour. I approached him — I kind of cold-called him — and I said, “Listen, I work in television.” And at that point I was freelancing for other companies as a producer and a shooter and an editor. I called Tony, and he was still working in a kitchen at the time, and I said, “Would you mind if me and my husband, Chris, came and shot a short demo and we try to sort of pitch the idea of A Cook’s Tour — meaning you traveling the world, kind of exploring the way other people eat — as a television series?” And he was like, “Yeah, sure. Whatever.” I don’t think he had any expectations at that point. Again, he hadn’t really traveled.

A Cook’s Tour intrigued the folks at the Food Network and the show ended up running for 35 episodes over two seasons. And they are now all available to watch for free on YouTube. I’ve embedded the first episode above, where he goes (back) to Tokyo, but he also visits Vietnam, San Sebastian, Oaxaca, Scotland, Singapore, and Brazil during the show’s run. More from Tenaglia on how the show came about:

So that was the start of our relationship and our time together. We, fortunately, were able to pitch and sell that idea, A Cook’s Tour, to the Food Network. Me and Chris, my husband, and Tony, just the three of us, all went out on the road together for that first year, and we shot 23 episodes of A Cook’s Tour, and we kind of figured out the format of the show on the road. It was really Tony tapping into the references he did have — you know, films and books and things he had seen and knew about only through film and reading.

So he was able to bring all of those cultural references to the table, and the three of us together were able to kind of play with the format of what those visuals would look like, so that it wasn’t just about him eating food at a restaurant. It was really about everything that was happening around him — or the thoughts he was having internally as he had these experiences or the references that he had seen through film that he loved and books that he had read, like The Quiet American, and how those things related to what he was experiencing.

So it became this kind of sort of moving, evolving format that was very much based on, predicated on the location that we were in and those references that he could call up. The show just kind of began to take shape. I mean, really there was no format of the show going into it. We just said, “Hey, we’re going to travel around the world, and this guy … he’s a chef, and he’s written this great book, and he’s going to try food in other countries.” And that’s what sold the project to the Food Network at the time. Then, as we went and actually made the show, we really started to play with the format and turned it into something else.

I would say that 17 years later the show has gone through various iterations. We did the two seasons of A Cook’s Tour on the Food Network, and then we did eight seasons of No Reservations on the Travel Channel, and now we’re on Parts Unknown. And the show has evolved as Tony has evolved, as the crew has evolved, as the technology has evolved. The show has sort of turned into this kind of, you know, one man’s initial foray into the world, and I think today, 17 years later, he’s really kind of evolved into more of a cultural anthropologist.

The show’s very sociopolitical — it’s about people and characters. The food and the people are just the entry point. It’s really about all the context around it. The more you can bring story to that and the more you can bring references to that — film references … character references — the more you can introduce interesting, unique characters into the equation, I think that’s what keeps the show very fresh and why it’s continuing to evolve all these years later. Each show is very different from the one before it.

It’s fun to watch the prototype of what eventually became a very beloved and different show. (via open culture)

My Recent Media Diet, the Summer/Fall Switchover Edition

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 13, 2021

Oh, I’ve let it go too long again. It’s been almost four months since I’ve done one of these media roundups and there’s lots to share. If you’re just joining us — welcome but WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN THO?! — I do a post like this every few months with short reviews of all the movies, books, music, TV show, podcasts, and other things I’ve enjoyed (or not) recently. The letter grades are very subjective and inconsistent — sorry! Ok, here’s what I have for you today.

The Land That Never Has Been Yet. This podcast series by Scene on Radio on American democracy is essential listening. The episode on how a small group of libertarians have had an outsized influence on American life is especially interesting and maddening. (A)

The Legend of Korra. Watched this with the kids and we all enjoyed it. (B+)

The Expanse. A little uneven sometimes, but mostly compelling. I’ve got crushes on about 4 different people on this show. (B)

Galaxy Quest. The teens were skeptical about this one, but Alan Rickman’s presence won them over. I love this movie. (A)

The Truffle Hunters. The first movie I’ve seen in the theater since March 2020. The pace of the film is, uh, contemplative — I never would have lasted more than 10 minutes if I’d started watching this at home — but full of wonderful little moments. (B+)

The Ezra Klein Show, interview with Agnes Callard. I don’t catch every episode of Klein’s podcast, but this interview with Agnes Callard was particularly wide-ranging and good — I want to know her opinion on anything and everything. (A-)

NBC Sports’ Premier League recaps. I don’t get to watch as much football as I’d like, but I look forward to catching up with all the action at the end of the day. A lot of the networks’ recaps are pretty shabby — incomplete, rushed, no goal replays — but the ones from NBC Sports are really good. You see each of the goals (and significant near-misses) from multiple angles and get a real sense of the flow of the match. (A-)

Nomadland. I didn’t seem to like this quite as much as everyone else did. Frances McDormand is excellent as usual. (B+)

Mare of Easttown. Kate Winslet. I mean, what else do you have to say? I raced through this. (A)

Writing the Future: Basquiat and the Hip-Hop Generation. Great exhibition at the MFA of one of the golden ages of NYC. (A-)

The Premonition: A Pandemic Story by Michael Lewis. It’s a little early to write the definitive book on what went so wrong in America with the pandemic, but Lewis did about as well as can be expected. The CDC doesn’t fare well in his telling. (A-)

Alice Neel: People Come First. Great show at the Met of an outstanding portraitist. (A-)

Nixon at War. The third part of the excellent podcast series on the LBJ & Nixon presidencies. Nixon’s Watergate downfall began with the Vietnam War…when Nixon committed treason to prolong the war to win elected office. (A)

Rashomon. Hard to believe this was made in 1950. A film out of time. (A-)

Velcro ties. Unobtrusive and super handy for organizing cords — wish I’d gotten these sooner. (B+)

Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blaché. Documentary about film director French film director Alice Guy-Blaché, who pioneered so much of what became the modern film industry, first in France and then in the United States. (B+)

Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro. Compelling dystopian science fiction from Nobel-winner Ishiguro. An interesting companion book to The Remains of the Day. (A-)

Handshake Speakeasy. Super creative and delicious. Maybe the best new bar I’ve been to in years. (A)

The Fugitive. Great film…still holds up almost 30 years later. (A)

Speed. This doesn’t hold up quite as well as The Fugitive but is still entertaining. (B+)

Edge of Tomorrow. Underrated action/sci-fi movie. (A)

No Sudden Move. Solid crime caper movie from Soderbergh. Don Cheadle and Benicio del Toro are both excellent. (B+)

Black Widow. Struck the right tone for the character. Florence Pugh was great. (B+)

Summer of Soul. Wonderful documentary about 1969’s Harlem Cultural Festival. Director Questlove rightly puts the music front and center but cleverly includes lots of footage of people watching too (a la the Spielberg Face). Beyonce’s Homecoming used this to great effect as well. (A)

Loki. Loved the design and architecture of the TVA. Great use of color elsewhere as well. (B+)

Nanette. Very clever and powerful. (A)

Fleabag (season two). Perhaps the best ever season of television? (A+)

Consider the Oyster by MFK Fisher. The highest compliment I can pay this book is that it almost made me hungry for oysters even though I do not care for them. (B+)

The Green Knight. Even after reading Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and seeing this movie, I’m not entirely sure I know what this story is trying to convey, thematically or metaphorically, or if it’s even that entertaining. (B)

The Dark Knight Rises. Probably sacrilege, but this is my favorite of the Nolan Batmen. (A)

Bridge of Spies. Mark Rylance was superb in this and Spielberg’s (and Janusz Kamiński’s) mastery is always fun to watch. (B+)

Luca. A fun & straightforward Pixar movie without a big moral of the story. (B+)

Solar Power. Not my favorite Lorde album. (B-)

Reminiscence. I have already forgotten the plot to this. (B-)

The ocean. Got to visit the ocean three times this summer. One of my favorite things in the world. (A+)

The White Lotus. Didn’t really care for the first two episodes and then was bored and tried to watch the third — only made it halfway through. I “finished” it by reading Vulture recaps. Why do people like this show? (C-)

A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes. Between Emily Wilson, Madeline Miller, and now Natalie Haynes, I’ve gained a unique understanding of the Iliad and Odyssey. (B+)

TWA Hotel. A marvelous space. (A-)

Turbo. Like Cars + Ratatouille but by Dreamworks and with Snoop Dogg. (C)

Laserwriter II by Tamara Shopsin. A love letter to NYC, printers, Apple computers, and the late, great Tekserve. Another banger from Shopsin. (A)

Donda. Beeping out all the swear words while managing to keep the misogyny in seems apt for an artifact of contemporary American Christianity. Too long and very uneven, I hate that I really love parts of this album. (D+/A-)

Certified Lover Boy. Same ol’ same ol’ from the easy listening rapper. Nothing on here that I wanted to listen to a second time. (C-)

The Great British Baking Show. I’ve only seen bits of one season so far (#6), but I can see why so many people love this show. It’s the perfect combination of soothing but competitive and about a topic that everyone loves — baked goods. (B+)

Past installments of my media diet are available here.

“What Are We Going to Say This Year?”

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 13, 2021

The Wire creator David Simon wrote about his friend and colleague Michael K. Williams, who died suddenly last week at the age of 54. The Question Michael K. Williams Asked Me Before Every Season of ‘The Wire’:

And from that moment forward, his questions about our drama and its purposes were those of someone sharing the whole of the journey. It became something of a ritual with us: To begin every season that followed, Michael K. Williams would walk into the writers’ office and sit on the couch.

“So,” he would ask, “what are we going to say this year?”

He gave us an astounding gift — an act of faith from a magnificent actor who could have played his hand very differently. Television usually chases its audience — if they love them some Omar, you feed them more Omar. If they can’t stop looking at Stringer, you write more Stringer. Never mind story and theme.

Instead, Mike bent his beautiful mind to a task that even the best writers and show runners often avoid. He thought about the whole story, the whole of the work.

Perhaps more than any in that talented cast, I came to trust Mike to speak publicly to our drama and its purposes, to take personal pride in all that we were trying, however improbably, to build. He became increasingly political as the show aged, and in interviews took to addressing societal and political issues, his arguments ranging well beyond Omar’s arc.

“I started to realize that, oh, this is not about me,” Williams once told an interviewer, looking back. “It had everything to do with … just great tapestry, this great narrative of social issues … things that are wrong in our country.”

See also tributes from Wendell Pierce and other actors & filmmakers who worked with Williams.

Ignorance and the Curious Idiot

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 26, 2021

From an interview with the Ted Lasso creative team, here’s co-creator and star Jason Sudeikis on where the idea for the show came from:

The thing Bill and I talked about in the pitch was this antithesis of the cocktail of a human man who is both ignorant and arrogant, which lo and behold, a Batman-villain version of it became president of the United States right around the same time. What if you played an ignorant guy who was actually curious? When someone used a big word like “vernacular,” he didn’t act like he knew it, but just stops the meeting like, “Question, what does that mean?”

Austin Kleon riffed on the unusual relationship between ignorance and curiosity:

That last point might be the most important: care is a form of attention, and unlike talent or expertise, it can be willed into being at any time.

If you care more than everybody else, you pay better attention, and you see things that others don’t see. To ask the questions that need to be asked, you have to care more than others about what happens, but care less about what others might think of you in the moment.

Which makes me think about my favorite scene from Lady Bird, summarized here by A.O. Scott:

Sister Sarah Joan (Lois Smith), the principal, has read Lady Bird’s college application essay. “It’s clear how much you love Sacramento,” Sister Sarah remarks. This comes as a surprise, both to Lady Bird and the viewer, who is by now aware of Lady Bird’s frustration with her hometown.

“I guess I pay attention,” she says, not wanting to be contrary.

“Don’t you think they’re the same thing?” the wise sister asks.

The idea that attention is a form of love (and vice versa) is a beautiful insight.

These thoughts resonated with me today because I recently had a falling-out with someone I care about, in part because I paid insufficient attention to who they were as a person. I was ignorant and incurious in our relationship, a disastrous combination that caused deep pain. In the aftermath, I instinctively reached for the comfort of a rewatch of the first season of Ted Lasso, hoping for some laughs. But what I especially noticed this time around was how much effort Coach Lasso puts into deciphering who people are, who they really are, so he can help each individual be their best selves, which is perhaps the hallmark of a wonderful partnership. It was a good reminder for me of attention as a form of love but also of the work I need to do to actually practice that consistently in my life.

John Oliver Loves Octopuses

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 14, 2021

John Oliver’s HBO show is on hiatus for the summer, but he really wanted you to know some facts about the many species of amazing octopuses out there (and why it is “octopuses” and not “octopi”).

See also My Octopus Teacher and A Dreaming Octopus Changes Color.

Succession Season 3 Teaser Trailer

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 13, 2021

Ok I know you’ve probably seen the teaser trailer for season 3 of Succession by now but I was away and missed it so we’re all going to watch it together mmm’kay? New season starts “this fall”, whatever that means. I guess that’s enough time for a rewatch of the first two seasons?

Believe

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 22, 2021

The second season of Ted Lasso starts on July 23rd and this new trailer has me all fired up. The first season was a very welcome diversion during the height of the pandemic and was an almost magical unicorn of a TV thing.

Sourcing Design Objects Used in Star Trek

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 17, 2021

Production designers working on science fiction movies and TV shows are part-time magicians because they routinely have to invent the future using things from the present. The site Star Trek + Design is collecting the futuristic design objects — chairs, cups, silverware, sofas — that designers used on the sets of Star Trek movies and TV shows to depict the future.

Being drawn to the aesthetics of Trek, especially of The Next Generation, made me curious about the specific objects that set designers used to create the visual embodiment of what living and working on a starship would look like in a technologically-advanced, post-scarcity future.

For instance, this is an RBT Chair by Teknion used in Star Trek: Discovery:

a chair used in Star Trek

Park Avenue glasses made by Anchor Hocking were used for barware in TNG:

a drinking glass used in Star Trek

Voyager used Arne Jacobsen’s AJ Flatware in several episodes (as did Kubrick’s 2001):

flatware used in Star Trek

Check out the site for many more sourced objects.

See also Film and Furniture, a Site About the Decor in Movies.

Patrick Stewart Does Hamlet on Sesame Street

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 16, 2021

Patrick Stewart, displaying the Shakespearian acting chops that landed him the role of Captain Picard on Star Trek: The Next Generation, appeared on Sesame Street in 1996, performing a parody of Hamlet’s soliloquy with the letter “B”. Stewart never doesn’t give it his all when acting.

Bo Burnham Welcomes You to the Internet

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 08, 2021

I have been hearing nothing but good things, and lots of them, about comedian Bo Burnham’s new show on Netflix called Inside. Burnham did the entire thing by himself in his house during the pandemic — writing, music, cinematography, editing, etc. In this clip from the show, Burnham performs a song called “Welcome to the Internet”. (via waxy)

My Recent Media Diet, the Fully Vaccinated Edition

posted by Jason Kottke   May 18, 2021

Every few months for the past couple of years, I’ve shared the movies, books, music, TV, and podcasts I’ve enjoyed (or not) recently. Here’s everything I’ve “consumed” since early February, accompanied by a mini review.

How To with John Wilson. What happens near the end of the risotto episode got all the attention, but I’m all about the bag of chips saga. (B+)

Black Art: In the Absence of Light. I can listen to artists and critics talk about art all day long. Also? Everyone in this has impeccable eyewear. (A)

Spirited Away. A masterpiece. (A)

Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 Vaccine (BNT162b2). Possibly the best experience of the past 5 years. (A+++++)

Casino Royale. The best of the Daniel Craig Bonds IMO. (B+)

The Lying Life of Adults by Elena Ferrante. Another marvelously constructed world with vibrant characters by Ferrante. (A)

Wandavision. A love letter to television. Watched this with the kids and we all loved it. (A)

Looper. This is perhaps my favorite type of movie: clever sci-fi with a creative director and good actors that give a shit. (A-)

Sonic the Hedgehog. Jim Carrey is the highlight here and not much else. (C+)

The Remains of the Day. One of my favorite movies. I’ve watched this every few years since 1993 and what I get out of it changes every time. Great book too. (A+)

Judas and the Black Messiah. Fantastic performances by Daniel Kaluuya and LaKeith Stanfield. (A)

Zack Snyder’s Justice League. Way too long and nearly pointless. This is what happens when you start treating the director of Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole like an auteur. (B-)

A Promised Land by Barack Obama. I recommend the audiobook version of this. You can really tell the bits of the book he cares about and the stuff he phones in a little bit more. The tone of his voice when he talks about Michelle — that love is real. (B+)

Making Sense — The Boundaries of Self. I listened to this conversation with the poet David Whyte at the beginning of March and it was exactly what I needed to hear at that time. I must have listened to his short essay on Friendship about 5 times. (A)

Thunderstruck by Erik Larson. About the invention of the wireless telegraph and the beginning of our abundantly connected world. (B+)

Still Processing - The N Word. The way that Morris and, particularly, Wortham use inclusive language is fascinating. They invite people into the conversation without any loss of insight or critical capability. A bracing rebuttal to the idea that using so-called “woke” language is hamstringing discourse in America. (A-)

Matilda by Roald Dahl. Read this aloud to the kids and was told my rendition was not nearly as good as Kate Winslet’s. (B+)

You’re Wrong About (The continuing OJ saga). This has become the show’s version of Nicholson Baker’s The Mezzanine, with entire episodes dedicated to explaining mere minutes of the trial. I am here for it. (A)

Godzilla vs. Kong. I watched this after eating an edible and I think that’s the perfect way to do it. Monsters, roar! (B)

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. One of my favorite Trek movies. (A-)

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. Less popular with me and the kids than Wandavision. Occasionally fun but also kind of a mess, especially when it comes to the “moral of the story”. (B)

The Talk Show with Craig Mod. Every single second of this 2.5-hour-long conversation between Craig Mod and John Gruber felt like it was created specifically for me. (A-)

Rough Translation - Liberté, Égalité, French Fries… And Couscous. A follow-up to a classic episode about a French McDonald’s that was commandeered by its employees. (B+)

Unstoppable. The perfect movie. I wouldn’t change a thing. (A)

Pac-Man 99. A nice update to this venerable game. The kids dismissed it as “too hectic”. (B+)

Fortnite. The perfect game for introverts — you can actually win by cleverly avoiding crowds and then dealing with a much more manageable 1-on-1 situation. But also I am old and there are too many buttons on this controller. (B+)

Croupier. Young Clive Owen, wow. (B+)

HazeOver. Recommended to me by Mike Davidson, this macOS app dims background windows to help you focus on your work. (B+)

Titanic. Had to rewatch after Evan Puschak’s video about it. Still an amazingly effective blockbuster movie. (A)

For All Mankind (Season One). So many people have recommended this to me over the past year and I finally got around to watching it. I was hooked within the first 5 minutes. (A)

The Mitchells vs. The Machines. Entertaining and stylistically interesting. (B+)

NYC. So much to say about this city and the resilience of the people who call it home. Still undefeated. (A)

Throughline — The Real Black Panthers. Great podcast on the political agenda and strategy of the Black Panther Party. A natural companion to Judas and The Black Messiah. (A)

Frick Madison. They have like 10% of the world’s Vermeers in just one room! (B+)

The Whitney. Great to be back here to see the work of Dawoud Bey and Julie Mehretu. (A)

The outdoor dining situation in NYC. The city has to keep this and the pandemic pedestrian areas reclaimed from cars. More room for people, less room for cars. (A)

Fairfax. This is the sister restaurant to my two favorite places in NYC, both of which closed permanently because of the pandemic, and the first restaurant I’ve been to since March 2020. We ate outside, I had too many cocktails, and it was perfect. (A+)

Past installments of my media diet are available here.

Bart Simpson feat. Daft Punk & Giorgio Moroder

posted by Jason Kottke   May 13, 2021

Part of what makes this so good & funny is the obvious level of care put into making it, right down to the smallest details. The audio distortion? Perfect lip syncing? The Doppler effect?! It’s just a meme, you didn’t have to go so hard! (via the xoxo slack)

Ted Lasso Believes in You

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 28, 2021

Catherynne M. Valente has written an absolutely fantastic review of Ted Lasso that gets to the heart of why so many people love the show so much. I will quote from it at length:

Ted Lasso is like if Mr. Rogers, Bob Ross, Coach Taylor, Leslie Knope, and David Tennant’s Doctor all got together and had a big strange baby. It is a completely formulaic premise that turns around and refuses to follow the formula. It’s wholesome without being boring, kind without being trite, smart without being pedantic, so loving it’ll take your breath away, and gut-bustingly funny. Scripts so tight and hilarious that even one guy just saying his name and the paper he works for is not only a meme but makes you smile each and every time.

Do you know how fucking hard that is to pull off?

It is so much easier to be funny while being cynical. Everyone knows life sucks, it’s easy to get them onside by accessing that universal experience. To sneer and punch down and stand back from the world wrapped up in a sense of coolness that comes at the expense of everyone else and call that edgy. It is so much harder to stay funny while you’re being kind. In a show for adults. For cynical adults who are having a thoroughly rubbish time of it — and that was everyone in 2020. It’s nearly impossible, honestly. Even Parks and Rec constantly shit down Jerry’s neck. The Good Place was full of demons to balance out the philosophy with that kind of humor.

Ted Lasso is just a guy. It’s not the afterlife, it’s not in space, it’s not in a medieval morality play, it’s not even something as high-concept as the fantasy life of JD in Scrubs. He’s just a guy, who has problems, not insignificant ones, but also maybe the secret of life, moving through a traditional comedy plot — in fact, the actual plot of Major League — and handling it like comedy characters never do because it’s easier to do a madcap plot when everyone is being stupid and not communicating and running on the rails of their particular archetypal tropes.

How they managed to make radical empathy funny is just miraculous. And also:

I actually think Ted’s progressive jokes are rather desperately important, as far as TV is ever desperately important. There’s this crushing, dominant idea that real comedy, edgy comedy, modern, cutting-edge comedy is by nature regressive, offensive, in your face, dirty, snickering about women and minorities and LGBTQ folk because if those pious SJWs don’t like it, it must be hysterical. So to speak. That if you’re not offending people, you’re not doing it right. And the intersection of comedy and sports is where this attitude is likely to be EXTREMELY firmly rooted and taken for granted.

But here it’s just…gone. There are zero jokes made at the expense of…really anyone except Jamie and Roy, who both need to experience not being bowed down to in order to become who they need to be. Ted doesn’t even think before deftly acknowledging that Rebecca is funny, but on the off chance she actually has a trans parent, he’s excited and interested to discuss her experience with her without judgment. And yet nothing is lost in terms of fun or laughs, because in every scene, Ted lets everyone be in on the joke with him instead of being a target.

Art can be like this. Art can be like this and nothing is lost. There’s still plenty of edge to go around.

If I were you, I would read the whole thing, especially if you liked this previous post: Ted Lasso, a Model for the Nurturing Modern Man.

Life in Color with David Attenborough

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 22, 2021

A new three-part nature series premiered today on Netflix: Life in Color with David Attenborough.

Animals can use color for all kinds of different reasons — whether to win a mate or beat a rival, to warn off an enemy or to hide from one. To understand how these colors work, we need to see them from an animal’s perspective. With new cameras developed especially for this series, now we can.

Trailer for The Underground Railroad

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 21, 2021

This is the trailer for The Underground Railroad, a limited series from Amazon based on the Pulitzer-winning novel by Colson Whitehead, directed by Barry Jenkins. The series will contain 10 episodes and be available to stream on Amazon Prime from May 14.

Ted Lasso Season 2 Teaser Trailer

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 20, 2021

Apple just announced that season two of Ted Lasso will be premiering on Apple+ on July 23. That’s it, that’s the news. Watch the trailer. Rejoice. Be happy.

See also Ted Lasso, a Model for the Nurturing Modern Man.